Recent disputes over Israel inside HRW have frequently involved Sarah Leah Whitson, the 43-year-old director of MENA (and one of the officials who made the controversial fundraising appearance in Saudi Arabia). Raised by a mother who had been born in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Whitson spent summers as a child with family in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, later studying abroad in Egypt. Following law school, she became a corporate attorney but pursued activism on the side, volunteering for, among other groups, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (where she was co-organizer of a delegation in 2002 that lobbied Kofi Annan to press ahead with a U.N. investigation of Israel’s Jenin operation) and MADRE (a women’s rights group, with which she traveled to Lebanon on a solidarity mission in 1996 after an Israeli bombing campaign). As I stepped into her office for an interview in February, I noticed that a poster for Paradise Now, a movie that attempts to humanize Palestinian suicide bombers, hangs on her door and that two photos of bereaved Gazans hang on her wall.
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